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Is your kettle as loud as a drill?

Unbelievably, our tests have found that some kettles are as loud as an electric drill. No wonder noisy boiling is one of your biggest kettle bugbears. Does your noisy tea-maker make you boil over with rage?

Whenever we ask what annoys you most about your kettle, noise comes top more often than not. A third of you named it your biggest bugbear in our poll last year, ahead of leaks and difficult lids.

So we wanted to find out just how noisy kettles are compared to other familiar sounds.

For every kettle we test, we measure the decibel level it reaches when boiling. The quietest unit we’ve tested in the past few years reached 79 decibels (dB), while the loudest hit an ear-splitting 95dB.

And that wouldn’t just drown out the noise of your TV – that kettle would be louder than a lawnmower (around 90dB) and as loud as an electric drill in some cases (a drill is typically between 95dB and 100dB).

How to find a quiet kettle

Noisy kettlesHowever, our kettle tests cover more than just volume. We also get a panel of experts to provide a subjective noise rating. This means that they can mark down kettles which make a particularly annoying noise, even though they may not sound too loud on a decibel level.

We combine this with the decibel level to create our overall noise rating. So, if noisy boiling bothers you, use our ‘compare features and prices’ tool to pick out the kettles which get four- or five-star ratings for noise.

Ultimately though, truly quiet kettles just don’t exist. The volume of a conversation is typically 60-65dB – much lower than even the quietest kettle we’ve tested. So until manufacturers figure out a way to make kettles much quieter than they are now, you’re going to need to raise your voice or turn up the volume on the TV while you’re making a cuppa.

How loud is your kettle? Does the noise bother you, or are you able to ignore it?

Comments

The noise made by the kettle does not bother me. When the noise stops, it is time to make the tea, so it is quite useful.

A cordless drill can be very quiet and a mains hammer drill extremely noisy, so I am not sure if a ‘drill’ is useful for comparison. Likewise, lawnmowers vary enormously in the noise they make.

I’ll tell you what does annoy me – my washing machine. I live in an open-plan flat and when my flatmate decides to do his washing while I’m trying to watch Celebrity Masterchef, all I can hear is the whirring of his clothes spinning.

To top it all, when the washing machine is finished it mocks me with a ‘happy tune’ – the beginning of Jingle Bells of all things! That leaves me humming a Christmas tune in Which? HQ in the middle of summer!

My kettle on the other-hand, a Russell Hobbs, might be quite loud at boiling point, but it doesn’t last very long so I can put up with it.

wev says:
1 August 2013

Which is more annoying? A kettle’s weight or its noise?

There is nothing like Which? Conversation for learning about problems you do not realise you have. 🙁

To be serious, ordinary kettles are difficult for those with arthritis or weak wrists. Travel kettles are lighter but the quality of those I have seen is mediocre. It might be worth reviewing the better ones in the next Which? review of kettles.

We purchased the Prestige Eco 55845, a Which? best buy, because it only weighs at 0.6 kg. One reviewer complained that it was flimsy, but if flimsy means light weight then it’s excellent. It certainly boils fast and you can fill just one mug full, so it really is eco.

The downside is it is noisy. But then it is fast at boiling, so boiling just a mug of water means you don’t hear it for very long.

Quieter kettles tend to be much heavier. So you takes your choice!

I find Kettle noise is an issue.
My kitchen has a lot of hard surfaces, granite worktop, original slate floor , so find the kettle has no difficulty masking the radio or TV usually at a critical point !

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Yes electric kettle noise is a big problem and it was much less when kettles had immersion elements. I am an engineer and I feel sure I could design an efficient kettle that is much less noisy than the present offerings, if only I had the time to do it. We have ended up with a Bosch kettle which is not too noisy and heats up quickly, but has other problems. Being designed by a German company and Germans don’t have kettles in their culture, it pours very badly because it doesn’t have a spout; its a bit like a deep saucepan, so when you pour the water it escapes around the pouring edge. I didn’t realise that this could be a problem before we got it, but now I know that the spout is essential.

Boiling a saucepan of water on an electric hob is very quiet, so I assume that kettles are noisy because the base resonates much like the sound board on a musical instrument.

As you point out, David, some kettles don’t even pour properly, so I doubt that enough thought goes into their design. If you do get round to designing a quiet kettle, please could we have one with a PTFE coating so that limescale does not stick to it.

It’s little to do with the kettle resonating, but is to do with cavitation. Because the water is touching the element, the heavy current passing through the element causes it to get hot and pass that heat to adjacent water molecules. The electrons in the molecules get excited and expand, rising upwards. As they rise, they dissipate their heat rapidly to surrounding ‘cold’ molecules and collapse (cavitation). The cavitation makes the noise because it is a relatively violent reaction.

The kettle is much quieter once it is boiling because the quantity of cavitation falls off dramatically (all the molecules have become excited and equally hot).

With a hob (electric or gas), the element is not touching the water, so the molecules are far less excited and there is minimal cavitation. Hobs are far less efficient at boiling because there is a gap between the heat source and the water molecules.

In a modern electric kettle, the element is not in direct contact with the water in a kettle, but attached to the metal base of the kettle. This is normally a thin sheet of stainless steel. I reckon that a thicker aluminium base would be better, since it will not resonate. A PTFE coating would protect the aluminium from corrosion, but might not be sufficiently durable to be left with water in the kettle when not in use.

You are both right. The cavitation is caused by the water next to the hot surface reaching boiling point and becoming steam, expanding suddenly. What you need is as large a heating surface as possible, to dissipate as much of the hot water as fast as possible, maybe by having the heating base corrugated and yes why not coat it with a Teflon polymer although that is very hard to make stick to anything, so a better coating would be a fluorosilicone resin.

Fluorosilicone would be a good option, David, and a corrugated base would be stiffer and resonate less. Now we just need someone to make a prototype ‘Quietboil’ kettle. 🙂

I’d buy one. Our kettle gets tremendously excited and makes a phenomenal racket, drowning out all conversation during the last few minutes of the boil. This has got worse as the kettle has got older. It helps if we put one of those ribbed rubber mats underneath it to stop the transmission of vibration, but the screaming from the cold molecules as they get scolded by the hot ones is still alarming. Cavitation! I must remember that . . . should break the ice at parties.

A corrugated element base would certainly provide greater surface area but it would produce even more cavitation and be even louder, though it should improve efficiency.

Extra strength would irrelevant as vibration is insignificant.

Why is my pan of water on the electric hob so quiet?

Sorry – I see you have already answered that. But, as I have pointed out, in modern kettles the element is not in contact with the water.

It is true that the element is not in direct contact, but it is extremely close with intimate contact between the element and the skinny cover. The cover is only to reduce furring of the elements and has no other function.

The saucepan on the hob is quieter because it is made of thicker metal (which acts to absorb some noise) but also moves the water further away from the heat source.

The wider surface area of the saucepan base spreads the heat over a wider area (so is less intense thus lower energy cavitation) and the wider surface area lets more heat escape. Because of the distance between the heat source and the saucepan base, heat leaks away.

A hob is typically around 50 – 55% efficient providing you have the correct size saucepan on the hob. A kettle is close to 100% efficient because the element is in intimate contact with the water and little heat escapes the source other than into the water.

Cavitation is the formation of cavities – sometimes bubbles, sometimes voids – in the water close to the intense heat source. When these collapse (implode), they create violent shockwaves producing strong jets from the surrounding molecules. It is these shockwaves that you hear because water is a great conductor of sound.

In a saucepan, the water is heated far more gently, so cavitation is less.

(Sonic baths use the cavitation energy to clean objects. Ultrasonic sound is used to create cavitation and the implosion of the bubbles and voids cleans the surfaces around the object immersed in the bath.)

My suggestion is to attach the element to a thick aluminium base, possibly using the ‘printed’ element technology common in current kettles. That will add to weight, but for those who regard noise as more important than weight, it might be a good alternative. Insulation would help make kettles quieter and keep water hot for longer, albeit adding to their bulk.

Colin Hodgson says:
2 August 2013

I have a Philips ” Comfort ” kettle , 2250 watts , spiral element .
This is very quiet and pretty quick . It pours okay . It was fairly cheap .
I have purchased another of the same : spiral elements are becoming scarce .

The Kenwood website refers to quiet kettles with a Stealth system, which is described thus: “Stealth is a plastic ring found in the bottom of the kettle which reduces the noise of the kettle when boiling.”

Does this work? How does it work? I think we need some input from Em. 🙂

Interesting to say the least! There’s little information from Kenwood but I’ve looked at about 50 reviews on various sites from UK to Oz and the many suggest that it’s not quiet or only marginally quieter than their previous kettles.

We’ll have to wait for Which? to test one.

Sounds like those “milk savers” glass/metal discs you used to put in saucepans to stop the milk boiling over. ( We are taking >50 years ago now)

Who decided that all kettles should have a nice resonant metal surface over the element? We had a good old Hayden white plastic kettle made in England now about 15 years old. The element is the old traditional type immersed in the water and is quite quiet compared with modern horrors. It still works and have only recently replaced with a modern Kenwood £20 cheapy because the plastic was worn and looking dirty. The Kenwood is noisyish but one still converse without too much difficulty. The old kettle did not fur up too much because we use filtered water. It is easy to clean a furred element. The other thing I have noticed in Which? reviews is the obsession with speed of boiling. Does it matter whether it takes 1 or 2 minutes? It is a short time and for us not a problem. Very tempted to go back to using an old fashioned kettle (if I can find one) on the gas hob – at least it would be quiet!

The thin metal plate makes little difference to the ‘noise’, which is caused by cavitation. Its purpose is to minimise the element furring up and losing efficiency.

I agree about the ‘need for speed’: what’s 20 seconds here or there. I’d say the important features should be:

Comfortable to handle
Pours accurately without dribbling
Easy to fill and see quantity added
Minimal fill (just a single cup)
Efficiency
Noise
Speed

I agree with Terfar’s list of desirable features for kettles, but add some extra points.

– Weight is an important factor for some, as has been mentioned earlier.
– Having an automatic switch-off that is both prompt and reliable is important. This is better than it used to be, but some kettles are still unsatisfactory.
– A flat, polished base is desirable for those who live in hard water areas. This may make kettles noisier but it certainly helps prevent build-up of limescale.

I also think it is time that insulated kettles were widely available, to help keep water hot. This will add to the bulk and weight, but these factors may not be important for many users. I would score insulated kettles highly for efficiency.

Durability is another important factor. When I was looking at the Kenwood website, I saw a statement that the expected life of a kettle is about five years. Top marks for honesty, but I would like to see all kettles with a manufacturer’s guarantee for ten years rather than one or two years. Our throw-away society is not sustainable and we need more durable products.

Nigel says:
4 August 2013

I completely agree with Terfar’s priorities.

We have not found recent Which reviews much help in choosing a kettle as the emphasis on speed seems to trump everything else.

The ability to pour cleanly without dribbling is critical, both for convenience and safety, and in my view Which does not give it the prominence that it deserves. I would not think this difficult to test properly and would like to know how Which tests and ranks pouring. If it does not pour properly it should be a ‘don’t’ buy or we are encouraging bad design!.

Having bought several kettles in the last few years which tended to generously pour boiling water all over the worktop (or occasionally splash my feet) as well as into the teapot, and being unconvinced of the adequacy of the current Which reviews, in desperation I bought the cheapest kettle in the local Waitrose. It pours perfectly, and apart from a slightly fiddly lid performs really well!

This has been an interesting exchange of ideas. I wonder if Which staff are watching it? because they might use their authority to have a word with electric kettle manufacturers to see if they could come up with a reasonably fast but quiet kettle that pours nicely. I think there could be quite a few buyers amongst us.

Just a further thought on the design. We have an old electric kettle in our office kitchenette which is pretty quiet because it has the old immersion type heating element and this is low powered (1 kW I think) so it is slow. The noise problem is made much greater in the modern designs by having more powerful heating elements (our Bosch kettle is 3 kW) to make them faster. The heating element could be given a larger surface area to reduce the noise from cavitation by extending it up the sides, but then you would have to fill it at least to above the heating element which is not so good for the single cup needs.

Here’s an innovative idea for kettle designers: you could have a small agitator (propellor) running inside the kettle to move the heated water away from the heating surface. Maybe I should go off an patent a design?

Phil says:
3 August 2013

Why is it Which? noise test some appliances and not others? I had to buy a new freezer recently and nearly bought the recommended “Best Buy” but online reviews warned that it was very noisy, something that wasn’t mentioned in the Which? report at all.

Phil raises an important point about Which tests; do they look for important things like noise (yes sometimes)? An important feature of any electric kettle is the electric power, yet the Which kettle tests don’t mention this for any of 196 kettles tested. And what about the tests themselves? The test of my Bosch Styline reports the pouring as 4 stars out of 5 which ought to be pretty good, yet my experience is that it pours very badly, especially if it has just switched off at boiling point, when the water bubbles out of the side of the lid and onto whatever is below, which could be dangerous if it splashes onto a part of your body.

Anon the Mouse says:
4 August 2013

I’ve just replaced my cheap kettle with a new cheap kettle after years of trouble free water boiling.

Neither cost more than £6, yet something has changed in design that causes the new one to be so loud that we can hear it from one side of our home to the other.

I know someone that had a kettle from the opposite end of the price scale and it’s the same issue.

richard says:
4 August 2013

My cheap Chinese kettle is fairly quiet – pours well – could be a little smaller (simply because of the room it takes up) – but the “click” it makes when switching off is an ideal signal that the water is ready (from the next room) – had it over ten years (my Russell Hobbs didn’t last as long – it is so cheap and reliable – I bought a spare. Some people must live in small flats

Flutefriend says:
4 August 2013

As I recall, my mother’s kettles, which she heated on gas rings, had steam-activated whistles to let her know when the water had reached boiling point.

Phil says:
5 August 2013

I still have one. Very useful when we have power cuts.

Tony says:
4 August 2013

Why does descaling a kettle make it less noisy?

The usual explanation for the irregular noise produced by a scaled kettle is that steam is trapped under pressure below the limescale and there is a tiny explosion when it escapes. This is in addition to the noise produced due to cavitation when bubbles of steam collapse (this becomes less as boiling point is reached and bubbles of steam escape rather than collapse.

Boilers affected by limescale can produce worrying noises and central heating engineers refer to this as ‘kettling’.

Limescale can contribute to noise, particularly on old-fashioned kettles with the element immersed in water rather than below the base of the kettle. It can also shorten the life of the element due to overheating.

The Which? website has advice on descaling coffee makers but I cannot find anything about descaling kettles or any review of the products on the market.

Antony says:
5 August 2013

Our Russell Hobbs kettle is great. It is well designed, made out of good materials, and looks like it will last. But it is astonishingly noisy, drowning the radio and making phone calls impossible while it is boiling.

Com on Russell Hobbs – don’t tell me you have noticed this fault in your otherwise good product?

The Which? website allows you to search for kettles with a good rating for noise, and this can be combined with other features of interest.

My kettlee sounds like a jet taking off from Gatwick. I can’t hold a telephone conversation and boil the kettle at the same time.

140dB for a jet taking off in case you were wondering!

This is your captain. Warning lights will be switched of shortly, but you are advised to keep your seatbelt on throughout the flight. As you have heard, the kettle has boiled and tea will be served soon.

go to sainsbury`s and buy one of there own make,on special offer,made in china.